Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
With only a week and change having passed since the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we no doubt feel the question living fresh in our minds: can we ever judge a remake without considering its predecessors? The conversation about the stark contrast in critical favor between Marc Webb's release and Sam Raimi's trilogy (the second installment of his franchise in particular) buzzed loudly, and we imagine the volume will keep in regards to Gareth Edwards' Godzilla. But it'll be a different sound altogether.
The original Godzilla, a Japanese film released in 1954, reinvented the identity of the monster movie, launched a 30-film legacy, and spoke legions about the political climate of its era. The most recent of these films — Roland Emmerich's 1998 American production — is universally bemoaned as a bigger disaster than anything to befall Tokyo at the hands of the giant reptile. With these two entries likely standing out as the most prominent in the minds of contemporary audiences, Edwards' Godzilla has some long shadows cast before it. And in approaching the new movie, one might not be able to avoid comparisons to either. It's fair — by taking on an existing property, a filmmaker knowingly takes on the connotations of that property. But the 2014 installment's great success is that it isn't much like any Godzilla movie we've seen before. In a great, great way.
This isn't 1954's Godzilla, a dire and occasionally dreary allegory that uses the supernatural to tell an important story about nuclear holocaust. A complete reversal, in fact, first and foremost Edwards' Godzilla is about its monsters. Any grand themes strewn throughout — the perseverence of nature, the follies of mankind, fatherhood, madness, faith — are all in service to the very simple mission to give us some cool, weighty, articulate sci-fi disaster. Elements of gravity are plotted all over the film's surface, with scientists, military men (kudos to Edwards for not going the typical "scientists = good/smart, military = bad/dumb" route in this film — everybody here is at least open to suggestion), doctors, police officers, and a compassionate bus driver all wrestling with options in the face of behemoth danger. The humanity is everpresent, but never especially intrusive. To reiterate, this isn't a film about any of these people, or what they do.
Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
The closest thing to a helping of thematic (or human) significance comes with Ken Watanabe's Dr. Serizawa, who spouts awe-stricken maxims about cryptozoology, the Earth, and the inevitable powerlessness of man. He might not be supplying anything more substantial than our central heroes (soft-hearted soldier Aaron Taylor-Johnson, dutiful medic and mom Elizabeth Olsen, right-all-along conspiracy theorist Bryan Cranston), but Watanabe's bonkers performance as the harried scientist is so bizarrely good that you might actually believe, for a scene or two, that it all does mean something.
Ultimately, the beauty of our latest taste of Godzilla lies not in the commitment to a message that made the original so important nor in the commitment to levity that made Emmerich's so pointless, but in its commitment to imagination. Edwards' creature design is dazzling, his deus ex machina are riveting, and the ultimate payoff to which he treats his audience is the sort of gangbusters crowd-pleaser that your average contemporary monster movie is too afraid to consider.
In fairness, this year's Godzilla might not be considered an adequate remake, not quite reciprocating the ideals, tone, or importance of the original. Sure, anyone looking for a 2014 answer to 1954's game-changing paragon will find sincere philosophy traded for pulsing adventure... but they'd have a hard time ignoring the emphatic charm of this new lens for the 60-year-old lizard, both a highly original composition and a tribute in its way to the very history of monster movies (a history that owes so much to the creature in question). So does Godzilla '14 successfully fill the shoes of Godzilla '54? No — it rips them apart and dons a totally new pair... though it still has a lot of nice things to say about the first kicks.
Oh, and the '98 Godzilla? Yeah, it's better than that.
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Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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If you take The Hangover, swap its cast of youngins for a clan of oldies, and pour a few pills down their throats in lieu of shots… voilá! You have the comedy Last Vegas.
In place of The Hangover's Justin Bartha is Michael Dogulas, whose character Billy gathers his gang of geriatrics (Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro, and Kevin Kline) to celebrate his destined-to-be-wild bachelor party in Las Vegas. The trailer for the Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) film, jumps right to Morgan Freeman joking that his hemorrhoids are the same age as Billy's young fiancée before we follow these pill-poppers off to Sin City.
Knee-slappers pour in as the A-List stars are dumbfounded by who the hell 50 Cent is, and drop their jaws glaring at the slew of hot females Las Vegas has to offer. To top off the absurdity, there's some really random cameos in the trailer from LMFAO's Redfoo to Entourage's Turtle.
So get ready to party it up on the Vegas strip with these elders when Last Vegas comes into cinemas on November 1.
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A massive hit never ends at its own conclusion for better or worse. Lost Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland The Blair Witch Project and other pop culture milestones spawned plenty of imitators of wavering quality that trickled on to screens until the phenomena tapered off. Joyful Noise the new film starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton is one these auxiliary creative endeavors a direct descendant of the cheeky drama/comedy/musical hybrid Glee. But instead of teenage issues and pop covers Joyful Noise swaps in familial struggles gospel tunes and a sizable serving of Christian faith. The combination results in a movie that lacks the jazz hand energy of Glee but packs good-natured laughs to keep someone awake for its two hour duration. More "noise" than "joyful."
Mere minutes after the passing away of choir leader Bernie Vi Rose (Latifah) inherits the position—along with a serving of negative vibes from Bernie's wife G.G. (Parton) who was hoping to take the job herself. The new responsibility is only the beginning of Vi Rose's troubles as she attempts to balance her rebellious daughter Olivia's (Keke Palmer) raging hormones her son Walter's (Dexter Darden) Asperger's syndrome her husband's absence during a military stint and her own old school God-faring ways. Hardships are whipped into further chaos upon the arrival of Randy G.G.'s rambunctious horny grandson who shows up at rehearsal with an eye on Olivia and undeniable vocal skills. Randy's rock and roll edge is readily embraced by the group but even with the national gospel championship on the line Vi Rose isn't ready to toss tradition aside.
Joyful Noise is a mixed bag sporadically entertaining when director Todd Graff (Camp Bandslam) lets his two commanding stars flex their comedic muscles or belt soulful tunes. Latifah and Parton can do both with ease—Latifah has a natural charm while Parton essentially fills the "kooky Betty White" here—but instead of letting the two fly Graff breaks up the action with overwrought drama and bizarre side character stories. The script injects a lot of ideas into the picture—loss of faith modernizing ideologies coping with tragedy sexuality under the eye of God—but every tender moment is fumbled. A gut-wrenching conversation between Vi Rose and her autistic son should have weight and the actors do their best but the material doesn't service the emotional complexity of the scenario. Instead it opts to cut to a musical number. Another sequence involving the overnight demise of another character is even played for comedy even when it causes one woman to question her beliefs.
Thank God for the musical numbers which have enough energy to brush the flimsier moments under the rug. The Glee-inspired pop tune covers (Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror " Usher's "Yeah"—both tailored with religious modifications) aren't nearly as interesting or powerful as the straight-up gospel songs. But unlike the tunes Joyful Noise doesn't have rhyme or reason. A mishmash of played out character stereotypes narrative cliches and enjoyable but erratic music the movie feels more like a cash-in than it should. Latifah and Parton are a sizzling duo but the vehicle built for them is a clunker. As Vi Rose might say the only way to have a great time at Joyful Noise is to believe. Really really hard.
Enough already with this nonsense about Friends With Benefits being the exact same movie as No Strings Attached. Yes, both films happen to be R-rated romantic comedies about attractive twentysomethings who attempt to maintain a sex-only relationship, only to face complications when feelings start to intrude — but that's where the similarities end. Don’t believe me? Here are seven crucial areas in which these polar-opposite films differ:
Female Lead No Strings Attached stars Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar for her performance in Black Swan, while Friends With Benefits stars Mila Kunis, who didn’t win an Oscar for her performance in Black Swan.
Male Lead Friends With Benefits stars Justin Timberlake, a popular sex symbol with minimal acting experience, while No Strings Attached stars Ashton Kutcher, a popular sex symbol with minimal acting talent.
The Arrangement In Friends With Benefits, the parties pledge to keep matters physical before they do the deed; in No Strings Attached, the pact isn't made till after sex has been had.
Token Gay Friend In No Strings Attached, the Token Gay Friend, played by Guy Branum, is bald and stereotypically effeminate. In Friends With Benefits, the Token Gay Friend, played by Woody Harrelson, is balding and aggressively masculine (but still unquestionably gay).
Embarrassing Parent In No Strings Attached, Kutcher is burdened by a self-centered, overly sexual, hippie-ish father, played by Kevin Kline. In Friends With Benefits, Kunis is burdened by a self-centered, overly sexual, hippie-ish mother, played by Patricia Clarkson.
Setting No Strings Attached takes place in Los Angeles; Friends With Benefits takes place in New York and Los Angeles.
Tone The tone of No Strings Attached is that of a standard rom-com, punctuated with soft-R raunch. Friends With Benefits boasts an aura of transgressiveness ... before devolving into a standard rom-com, punctuated with soft-R raunch.
Comedic Style No Strings Attached relies primarily on situational humor, supplemented with clever dialogue; Friends With Benefits relies primarily on clever dialogue, supplemented with situational humor.
There you have it. You can suss the differences yourself this weekend, when Friends With Benefits opens in theaters nationwide.
1. Ranking the Potential Ladies of Dark Knight Rises
Six women enter, only two will survive! Here is my take on the six women rumored to be pursuing the two remaining roles (love interest / villain) in the Biggest. Film. Ever.
6. Rachel Weisz: She's never shown me an adequate dark side, and she'd be too close to Katie Holmes on the love interest side. I dig her, but she's not right for the franchise.
5. Keira Knightley: You're not going to find a bigger Knightley apologist than me. Well, maybe Ma and Pa Knightley, but that's it. Still, she's not right for DKR. I could sort of see her as the villain, playing against type, but she's not wholesome enough to nail the love interest.
4. Anny Hathaway: Here's where it gets tough, because it's easy to see Hathaway as either the waifish love interest or as a Poison Ivy-esque redux. I could see it, but it's not our strongest play, if only because Love and Other Drugs proved she's aiming for Academy Awards from here on out.
3. Naomi Watts: I'm definitely getting vibes of Vicky Vale / Catwoman from the dynamic Ms. Watts. Still, we'll do a little better with:
2. Natalie Portman: An excellent choice as the villain, and her Thor casting means she's ready to work big budget. Portman can do pretty much anything she wants, from Closer's to the hard-edge V for Vendetta.
But the best potential casting choice is ...
1. Blake Lively: I know, I know, she doesn't have the pedigree of the other actresses on the list. But The Town really showed me something, and the distance between Gossip Girl and acting like you're from Southie is profound. She's got crossover talent. Plus, because being considered "sexy" is naturally fleeting (see: Fox, Megan) you've got to cast it when you see it. Kim Basinger had "it" and Blake Lively does right now too. Everyone on the list is attractive, but Lively demands attention. And when you're dealing with Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne you need a dynamic force. Lively for the win!
2. "Friends Who Start Dating" Movies on a Collision Course!
Every so often, all of Hollywood gets the exact same idea, at the exact same time. And generally speaking, there can be only one winner (See: Cop Out vs. The Other Guys). Which is what makes 2011's battle, Friends with Benefits vs. No Strings Attached so compelling, because they both feature actors you've heard of, in what seems to be extremely similar romantic comedies. Below are the respective trailers. WARNING: The 'Friends with Benefits' trailer is Red Band and may contain NSFW footage.
So who will triumph, given there can be only one Highlander? Here's the breakdown:
Lead Actors: If you were to seed these folks one through four you'd probably go 1. Portman 2. Kunis 3. Timberlake 4. Kutcher. So that's a wash, we'll give the point to No Strings Attached because Portman is best in show.
Supporting Cast: No Strings Attached features Cary Elwes, Lake Bell, Ludacris, and Kevin Kline. Respectable. But Friends with Benefits counters with Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg, Richard Jenkins, and Patricia Clarkson. No contest, Friends with Benefits ties it up.
Release Date: Friends with Benefits hits theaters in July, while No Strings Attached attacks in January. Portman and crew will strike first, but January is generally reserved for the films studios are slightly ashamed of. I'd rather have the summer release date, and Friends with Benefits takes the lead!
Trailer: Friends with Benefits is a much more straightforward offering, which makes me think they are playing their laughs closer to the vest. No Strings Attached has multiple story arcs, scenes, and gags, more of a "kitchen sink" attempt. Again, the win goes to Friends with Benefits.
Competition: No Strings Attached will take on a drama called The Way Back, starring Colin Farrell and Ed Harris. Friends with Benefits takes on the new Captain America movie. Yikes. It will offer a decent counter-programming option, but I'd still rather face a film not in the superhero genre. No Strings Attached gets the nod, and is now down 3-2.
Director: Friends with Benefits is helmed by Will Gluck, he's hot after directing Easy A. But No Strings Attached is directed by Ivan Reitman. The elder Reitman has had some bombs, but he also directed Ghost Busters. Advantage: Reitman, and it's all tied up!
Intangibles: So what matters more, top line talent or release date? Directing or the supporting cast? This is very close, but I'm going to go with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in Friends with Benefits, because I think July has a much higher ceiling than January. Most folks probably won't notice No Strings Attached in the cold and blustery January, but they should be primed for a date night in July. So say we all.
On that note, I hope you have a weekend full of high ceilings!
Check out last week's Movie Musings here
Laremy is the lead critic and senior producer for a website named Film.com. He's also available on Twitter.
Top Story: Teri Hatcher Splits From Hubby
Actress Teri Hatcher has filed for divorce from her husband of nearly nine years, actor Jon Tenney, Reuters reports. According to court papers, Hatcher, 38, cited irreconcilable differences for ending her marriage to Tenney, 41. The couple has agreed to share custody of their 5-year-old daughter, who will live with Hatcher. The actress is best known for her role as Lois Lane in the ABC series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which ran from 1993 to 1997. Tenney's screen credits include You Can Count On Me, Fools Rush In, Beverly Hills Cop III and the short-lived CBS cop series Brooklyn South.
Aguilera Fit for Versace
Raunchy pop singer Christina Aguilera is set to become the new face of Italian label Versace. Donatella Versace told Reuters her new outfits were inspired by Aguilera's singing and dancing. (The Italian designer said exactly the same of Britney Spears, who was guest of honor at the spring/summer collection show) "I watch the videos of Christina and I always die," Versace said. Not only has Aguilera moved into Spears' front-row seat at Versace, she will also be co-headlining a summer concert tour, Justified and Stripped, with Spears' ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake.
Cher Victim of Wig Larceny
Cher's production company has reported that a wig valued at $8-10,000 was stolen from the singer's collection of faux tresses during a Feb. 25 concert stop in Richmond, Virginia. Cher took off the wig, described as a braided half-black and half-teal number, after singing "All Or Nothing" and put it in a room where her other wigs were stored, police spokeswoman Christie Collins told Reuters. Larry W. Wilson Jr., general manager of the Richmond Coliseum, said, "We're still not 100 percent sure the wig was stolen out of our facility."
Son of "The Pianist" Releases Father's Songs
Andrzej Szpilman, whose father Wladyslaw Szpilman is the focus of Roman Polanski's Oscar-nominated film The Pianist, has spearheaded an album of his father's love songs, pop classics in Poland from the 1940s and 1950s, titled Wendy Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist--Wladyslaw Szpilman, Reuters reports. Famous in prewar Poland for his film scores and popular songs, Wladyslaw Szpilman performed Polish radio's last live music broadcast on Sept. 23, 1939, as German shells knocked out the station's power. When Radio Warsaw resumed broadcasting in 1945, it picked up exactly where it left off--with Szpilman playing the same Chopin nocturne he performed in 1939. He wrote his story down following the war, and it was published in 1946. The memoir was then banned by communist authorities and forgotten until it was reissued, due to his son's insistence, shortly before Wladyslaw Szpilman's death in 2000.
Role Call: Julianne Moore; Ashley Judd; Scary Movie 3; Molly Shannon
Variety reports...Double Oscar nominee Julianne Moore has signed on to star in the supernatural thriller The Forgotten for Columbia Pictures, with Return to Paradise helmer Joseph Ruben set to direct. Moore will play a grieving mother coping with the loss of her 8-year-old son when she is told by her psychiatrist that she created eight years of memories of a son she never had. Ashley Judd is negotiating to join Kevin Kline in De-Lovely, the Cole Porter biopic that Irwin Winkler is directing for United Artists. The pic will shoot in London starting May 5, giving Judd time to make the film and be back to begin rehearsals to play Maggie the Cat in a Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Old School's Jeremy Piven will join Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards in the third installment of Dimension Films' horror-spoof franchise Scary Movie 3. The studio has set an Oct. 3 release date for the film, which begins shooting this month in Canada. Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon has inked a deal to star in Fox's primetime comedy pilot Cracking Up. She will star as the mother of a crazy Beverly Hills family that takes in a psychology grad student.